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The self satisfied and arrogant Englishman Stanley (Colin Firth) is a master illusionist who is invited to the Catledge Family mansion to unmask a possible swindle involving an alluring young clairvoyant named Sophie (Emma Stone). At first, Stanley is confident he can expose Sophie as a fraud in no time. But as he witnesses her accomplish numerous supernatural feats, Stanley begins to question his whole rational worldview - if Sophie's powers are real, anything could be possible.

Review by Louise Keller:
Rational thought and logic is pitted against magic and optimism in Woody Allen's delightful comedy in which Colin Firth and Emma Stone epitomise both ends of the spectrum. Of course love has something to do with it and Firth as Stanley the cynical illusionist and Stone as Sophie the mystical seer jostle and joust their positions throughout. Allen is in fine form, whisking us into an elegant world in the South of France in the late 20s, in which eloquence, manners and wit are ammunition for a splendid time. It's engaging, stimulating, charming, amusing and romantic all at once, with Firth at his best and Stone disarmingly enchanting.

There's a memorable scene in which Stanley and Sophie take refuge from a thunderstorm in an old observatory. The pristine, classic red Alfa Romeo that Stanley was driving to visit his Aunt Vanessa (Eileen Atkins, wonderful) has broken down and it is the new crescent moon and twinkling stars (as well as some body heat) - not logic - that deliver the first indication of true magic. We have already sensed the yin yang attraction between Stanley and Sophie and the film's greatest fun comes in Allen's construct in which Firth's character fights against the pessimistic, rational state of mind with which he has spent his entire life.

We have already been presented with the set up - introducing Stanley on stage in Berlin (Firth unrecognisable as a grouchy Chinaman), making an elephant disappear, a woman being sawed in half and effecting a vanishing and reappearing trick. Then it's Sophie's turn to shine, conducting a sťance in the South of France for the wealthy Grace (Jackie Weaver, terrific), who is eager to reconnect with her deceased husband. The fact that Stanley has been persuaded to debunk Sophie as a fraud by his old magician pal Howard (Simon McBurney) is part of the brilliant set up. Another distraction is Grace's soppy son Brice (Hamish Linklater), who spends all his time serenading the lovely Sophie with his ukulele, offering her an unlimited platter of financial spoils.

The French locations are gorgeous with wisteria archways and Mediterranean vistas, while the grace and sophistication of the costumes (tweed jackets, waistcoats and lace gowns) are all beautifully in keeping with the elegant lifestyle and times represented. As Allen asks what is real and what is fake, the two sides of the coin are tossed; what fun there is to be had as the coin twirls.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The end is nigh for 79 year-old Woody, and thoughts of the afterlife after soak into his screenplays. The old intellectual conflict between rational, observable life on earth and irrational spiritual life in ... the ether? is his stomping ground here, dressed in a romantic comedy that has all the accessories of a rom-com but too little of the earthiness of authenticity. It's all a bit over-simplified and overstated.

Colin Firth is (surprisingly, unexpectedly) miscast as Stanley, the cynical, rude and rational magician, and the idea of a magician being a disbeliever in human magic is rather trite. Or is it that the character isn't written as well as it might have been. There is a flatness to Stanley, a lack of dimension. He keeps saying he is just supremely rational but all we see is a boor.

Ironically, everyone else in the cast shines, from Jacki Weaver as the widow seeking to make contact with her dead husband, to the wonderful Emma Stone as Sophie, the young American seer who upends Stanley's reliance on reality and Simon McBurney as Howard Burkan, Stanely's old friend and magician competitor who throws the spanner in Stanley's works.

Outstanding, too, is Eileen Atkins as Stanley's Aunt Vanessa, delivering one of those classy, textured, deeply rewarding characterisations that have made English character actors legends in their own lifetime.

Allen takes his characters to the 1920s for no other reason that he likes the music of the era. He takes them to the South of France, for no other reason than it's great eye candy and it works for everybody; the English since the 1920s have colonised many such places in Europe, and the contrast of English sobriety and reserve with Cote d'Azure frivolity and sin is irresistible. And perhaps Woody Allen falls for the trap of making it easy to like ... with Colin Firth as his baddie?

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(US, 2014)

CAST: Colin Firth, Emma Stone, Marcia Gay Harden, Jacki Weaver, Antonia Clarke, Natasha Andrews, Valerie Beaulieu, Simon McBurney, Catherine McCormack,

PRODUCER: Letty Aronson, Stephen Tenenbaun, Edward Walson

DIRECTOR: Woody Allen

SCRIPT: Woody Allen


EDITOR: Alisa Lepselter

MUSIC: Not credited


RUNNING TIME: 97 minutes



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